Drivers along a 50-mile stretch of Interstate 95 in Virginia became trapped earlier this week because of ice and as much as a foot of snow that caused numerous vehicle wipeouts, including an accident involving six tractor-trailers. Hundreds of motorists were stranded on the highway overnight and were left high and dry without any food in below-freezing temperatures. Thanks to a perspicacious couple from Maryland and a generous bakery, dozens of deserted drivers were able to get some nourishment in a time of need.
Casey Holihan and her husband, John Noe, were stranded on I-95 in Virginia for nearly 21 hours after leaving their Ellicott City home on a trip to North Carolina to visit Noe's family. The trip was important since the couple departs for Germany next week as part of his job in the Air Force. It was the last chance to see his family for what could be years.
"It was definitely a very scary situation and we had no idea how long we would be there for," the 24-year-old Noe told WBAL-TV. "We went to bed that night in the car because we just couldn't go anywhere, we were exhausted from driving all day and being so stressed."
On Monday night, the couple slept in their car. The next morning there was no progress and no end in sight to the nightmare traffic dilemma. Holihan could hear crying children in nearby cars on I-95.
"Many of the people stuck out here had small children, were elderly, had pets in the car, and hadn’t eaten in almost a whole day," Holihan wrote in a Facebook post.
Holihan, 23, noticed that there was a delivery truck for Baltimore's Schmidt Baking Company in front of their vehicle, which sparked a long-shot idea.
"We stared at it for a long time fantasizing about bread," Holihan told the Baltimore Sun.
"(On) kind of on a whim, I just called the customer service line of Schmidt's Bread. I kind of begged them to open the back of the truck and just give us a couple loaves of bread so we could share with the people around us," Holihan told WBAL-TV.
After speaking to a customer service representative for 20 minutes, Holihan got the phone number for Chuck Paterakis – co-owner of the H&S Bakery, which owns Schmidt Baking Company. H&S Bakery is the nation’s largest privately owned bakery – selling bread to McDonald's and Popeyes as well as stores from Maine to Virginia.
Inside the truck were 8,000 loaves of bread and driver Ron Hill.
The 60-year-old Hill – who has been an independent truck driver for 14 years – said he has never seen anything like this week's I-95 backup.
"It was just different," Hill said. "I’m a veteran so I’m pretty much prepared for anything."
During the night, he slept in two-hour shifts – just enough to keep warm as the outside temperatures dipped into the teens, while still conserving diesel fuel to eventually drive the truck. However, the dire situation even caught up with Hill when there was no help the following morning.
"Tears started rolling down my eyes," Hill revealed, adding that he went into the back of his truck to pray.
That was when Hill heard a knock on his truck's door.
He saw Holihan, who gave him the message to "call Chuck." Hill recalled, "It was Chuck Paterakis. ... He said to pass out the bread."
Hill and the couple "passed out bread to more than 50 cars who were all incredibly thankful."
Paterakis said giving back to the community "is something that’s in our company values and it’s in our culture."
"If you don’t give back to the community … you as a company are not going to be able to succeed," he added.
Holihan thanked the bakery company for its "humanity and compassion."
"This was one of the kindest moments I have ever witnessed," Holihan concluded.